Another interview with Obama, this one by Sarah Pulliam and Ted Olsen of Christianity Today, is worth a look. The following exchange puts the candidate more
or less back where the discussion of faith-based social service provision was before the Bush administration.
What would you do in office differently than Hillary Clinton or John Edwards that would appeal to evangelicals?
I have not focused on all of their policies so I don’t want to speak about what their positions will be. I know that as president, I want to celebrate the richness and diversity of our faith experience in this country. I think it is important for us to encourage churches and congregations all across the country to involve themselves in rebuilding communities. One of the things I have consistently argued is that we can structure faith-based programs that prove to be successful — like substance abuse or prison ministries — without violating church and state. We should make sure they are rebuilding the lives of people even if they’re not members of a particular congregation. That’s the kind of involvement that I think many churches are pursuing, including my own. It can make a real difference in the lives of people all across the country.
So would you keep the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives open or restructure it?
You know, what I’d like to do is I’d like to see how it’s been operating. One of the things that I think churches have to be mindful of is that if the federal government starts paying the piper, then they get to call the tune. It can, over the long term, be an encroachment on religious freedom. So, I want to see how moneys have been allocated through that office before I make a firm commitment in terms of sustaining practices that may not have worked as well as they should have.
Our regular commentator, Asinus Gravis, takes a dim view of the whole faith-based thing, but there’s no question that Obama likes it. What I’d like to see is someone ask him specifically about the issue that sank the federal legislation: whether faith-based recipients of federal funds would be required to abide by, or exempted from federal law banning discrimination in hiring based on religion. Judging from his comments here and elsewhere, I’d bet money that Obama opposes an exemption.